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least terrible chains?

I try very, very hard to never eat at chains for a couple of reasons - first, the "food" is generally terrible, as well as the "value" of what you get for what you pay is dismal, there's also most likely something local that's 200% better (though, admittedly, not always). I could, and often do, go on, but...

IF I'm somewhere completely unfamiliar, or if there is just nothing else available, I will eat at chains as necessary for survival. Enjoyment? not so much.

I sort of like Arby's - some of the homestyle sandwiches taste like food.
I've had some decent meals, and at very decent prices, at 99.
I fully love Krispy Kreme, and can't fathom the apparent NE preference for the "yumm-o!" DD!

At the moment, those are all of the chains that I can think of that don't actually make me shudder with disgust.
WHY (I realize that this is a whole other thread) can't we in the US have fast food that doesn't totally suck?

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  1. I like Panera - I have lunch or dinner there once a week. I like Chipotle, but the portion (and calories) are huge, so it's probably less than once a month, that I'll eat there. And I like Outback (chicken sandwich/ sweet potato/salad - takeout for $22 for 2 people) - we do that a couple times a month. I've never had a bad meal at the Bonefish Grill, either.

    6 Replies
    1. re: jeanmarieok

      See, I've found Panera tolerable. The first time I went, I thought the menu was interesting. I do like the lemonade. The soups, to my taste, as heavily oversalted and too thick. The sandwiches sound like good ideas, but taste like no one has ever tasted them to see if they work. The sweet pastries are just poor to my taste.
      I haven't eaten at Outback enough to have an opinion, but $22 sounds high for that meal.

      1. re: sophie fox

        That's a lot of experience with Panera for trying very, very hard to never eat at chains...

        $22 is high for 2 chicken sandwiches, 2 baked sweet potatoes and 2 salads? Sounds pretty fair to me.

      2. re: jeanmarieok

        I never liked Panera - it was a favorite for some of my college friends, but I've found the food pretty mediocre. I do agree on Chipotle - the portion's easily enough for two meals, but it's pretty tasty and I like their emphasis on using humanely raised, hormone free, etc ingredients. And Bertucci's pastas aren't great, but their pizza's pretty darn good. (They'll never stand up to DiFara's, but they beat the hell out of Dominoes.)

        1. re: Emmmily

          Water logged processed chicken in the chicken salad - blech! I am not a fan of Panera. It's as if they put themselves out there as this fresh alternative to fast food, but in reality everything they serve is processed and over salted.

        2. re: jeanmarieok

          HMMM- never thought of Outback to Go. DW drives right past one on the way home from work, and we can order on line. Have to try that.

          1. re: jeanmarieok

            I do not care for their salads, their sandwiches are Ok, but their soup is fabulous in my opinion.

          2. For lunch, I find Steak n' Shake acceptable, especially if it included one of their shakes.

            For dinner, I've had some good meals at Longhorn Steakhouse. I find it superior to Outback in terms of food, price & service. They also make a very good burger.

            2 Replies
            1. re: cavandre

              Gotta agree on Longhorn Steakhouse, although I've heard quality can vary GREATLY by location. The one by me is very consistent though.

              1. re: Heatherb

                Couldn't agree more on the quality variation at Longhorn. Vile steak in Leominster, MA (tough and stringy), soft and easy to cut in the Lowell, Mass area, 30 miles and a world of difference.

            2. In the past, I've had good experiences with Baja Fresh and Penn Station. My love of Penn Station shows the fact that it's the only place in my area to get a decent philly cheesesteak. A friend's dad used to own a Baja Fresh franchise locally, and I used to get huge burritos for free. I'm sure that helps my opinion, though I haven't had one in years. Ironically, the Baja Fresh in my area closed down (replaced by Penn Station), and my friend works for Chipotle, which is decent, but not as good imo.

              6 Replies
              1. re: madgreek

                i wholeheartedly love baja fresh. my SO and i lived in CA several years ago, where baja fresh was ubiquitous. it was one of the things we missed most after moving to the east coast (that and in & out!). when we went skiing at tahoe two years ago, the first thing we saw when we got off the shuttle from the airport was a baja fresh. we looked at each other, our eyes lit up, and we literally ran for it. that salsa bar is going to be in my personally designed heaven. ;)

                1. re: cimui

                  I also love Baja Fresh. The fajitas platter with pork carnitas is excellent. The salsa bar, in particular the pico de gallo and molcajete salsa, is superior.

                  1. re: cimui

                    Baja Fresh went downhill after Wendy's took them over.

                    1. re: DrBruin

                      I went to Baja Fresh a few times about four years ago and thought it sucked, DrBruin. But this past summer I was in the area and needed a quick lunch. Wow, I don't know whether our local one has a really good manager or the whole chain has improved but boy was I surprised. I don't usually expect chain restaurants to greatly improve but I'm now hooked on their shrimp tacos and fish tacos and my friend likes the americano steak burritos. Even the employees and atmosphere seem nicer. Whether I go for lunch or dinner (and I usually hit them up once a week), they have a steady stream of customers, about half take out and half eat in. And there is a taco bell, Chipote, and Moe's all less than two miles away from my Baja Fresh.

                      1. re: DrBruin

                        Agreed! I haven't had it in a while, because the last time I went there it was so bad. It's a shame, because it started out as healthful and delicious.

                    2. re: madgreek

                      Baja Fresh just opened two NYC locations recently and I had my first experience with them yesterday. Ultimately similar to Chipotle and Qdoba, but I liked the greater number of choices and the salsa bar.

                      1. I love Five Guys. Had the burger for the first time this year and it was fabu. They never use frozen meat and the fries are fresh made and to die for. I have to restrain myself from eating there daily.

                        I also like Carrabba's and Chik Filet.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: diablo

                          I'm with you on all your choices. Five Guys is a little on the higher end for burgers, but it's worth the cost. Plus a single order of fries is usually gigantic.

                          My higher end favorite is Roy's.

                          1. re: queencru

                            Twenty bucks for burgers for two is very expensive... but they were very good! We both loved the fries.

                            1. re: queencru

                              I'm with you on Roy's. Um Um Um Um Good!

                          2. In-N-Out

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              I didn't know Z was a chain! I like their pizza too, and I'm sure it's nowhere near authentic, but in spite of that quite tasty.

                                1. re: ccbweb

                                  Just saying that Zpizza isn't exactly NY or Chicago pizza necessairly - but I still enjoy it

                                    1. re: ccbweb

                                      I can't stomach zpizza. I've tried it several times and have never found their pizzas to have any flavor. That's the only place I've ever eaten at in my entire life where I ever wanted to add SALT to a pizza to give it some taste.

                            2. Where we live, the best chain is McDonald's, if you can stomach that. But, if we had our wises met, we'd love to see California Pizza Kitchen and Macaroni Grill move to town, in that order. They are consistent and serve food that tastes like food , not pre-made plastic food.

                              1. My husband loves Jersey Mike's. It's fresh sliced meat instead of being prepackaged. I really like Culver's. I always get the butter burger with the aged swiss cheese. Aged swiss is one of my favorite burger toppings, and I find it amazing that a burger chain uses it.

                                8 Replies
                                1. re: Wintergoblin

                                  Three chains that I can think of that I really enjoy are Five Guys, White Castle, and Boston Market.

                                  1. re: hotdoglover

                                    Popeye's Mild chicken and their biscuits - AWESOME! Best, best, best Fried Chicken, flavorful and Moist - some people like their Spicy variety too.

                                    I'm a PT food snob but I like this Fried chicken most of all - consistently great!

                                    1. re: chocolatebirthdaycake

                                      I agree about Popeye's. Fried chicken is excellent and the red beans and rice is superb. Doesn't seem at all like fast food. Never had better in NO.

                                      1. re: mpalmer6c

                                        I too love popeye's but they have dwindled here in Ma/NH (I first had them in La), I just came back from NC and love love loved Bojangles - awesome, even better then Popeyes - excellent sides, dirty rice was fantastic, cole slaw was really good, biscuits (had to eat the whole thing). Chicken was out of this world, maybe even a bit zippier then popeyes. Maybe I should open a franchise up here.

                                        1. re: lexpatti

                                          mmm popeye's.. when they have crawfish tails i am a happy woman. maybe i should grab a chicken thigh when i'm at the mall tomorrow...

                                  2. re: Wintergoblin

                                    Jersey Mike's was actually really good when they started out in this area about 15 years ago. Unfortunately it seems they have been gauging down the ole meat grinder so the slices of meat/cheese are paper thin.

                                    My favorite chain would have to be Outback. I've never had a bad meal there.

                                    1. re: JohnE O

                                      I always order the chopped salad at Outback.

                                      1. re: JohnE O

                                        heehee - I live in Jersey and just saw my first Jersey Mike's franchise here a couple years ago. I've yet to go (loyalty to the local delis I love), but I haven't heard anything horrible about them...

                                    2. We love Whataburger and FUddrucker's when we are traveling through Texas.

                                      Other favorites are Smashburger, Five GUys and Texas Roadhouse. TR has an earlybird special (OMG, we're getting old!) 2 entrees with salad and 2 veggies, rolls and I think a drink, such as iced tea or a soda, for $15.88. I am rationalizing that eating early is better for our metabolism.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: Pampatz

                                        I used to be an open TX Roadhouse apologist, but no longer. We hadn't been in over a year, but one of our kids requested it for their birthday, and we were more than game. While I could have ignored the ohsocute line dancing waitstaff (say, maybe if my margarita were better, and not served in a glass which weighed easily 3lbs), but the saltiness of my "filet" was absolutely unforgivable, no matter what. Ditto for my husband's steak and daughter's pork chops.

                                        Truly awful. I was pretty stunned.

                                        1. re: shanagain

                                          I'm pretty sure they use tenderizer, which contains a lot of salt. Just ask them to make it much less salty next time.

                                          1. re: madgreek

                                            No, the combined experience (which, incidentally, didn't include the tenderizing blend they use now) just made it unforgivable. It is a shame, because the roadhouse used to be a nice, family friendly but fun place to go, and it's just as if they're trying too hard now. Way too hard. It's kind of like a Joe's Crab Shack, but for steaks. Not cool.

                                      2. Pat's Pizza, of course and now there are 2 Finelli's Pizza; two links make a chain, right?
                                        In New Mexico: Blake's Lottaburger w/ double green chile.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Passadumkeg

                                          I'll second Blake's, it's the first place I hit when I go to NM for the green chile cheeseburger

                                        2. I, like many others, really love Baja Fresh. How many other, if any, chains can boast that they have no can openers or freezers?

                                          I also like Papa Saverio for pizza and California Pizza Kitchen is good as well (I am a vegetarian and it has a superb veggie friendly menu). I enjoy the salad bar at Ruby Tuesday but don't get their regular menu items. Cousins has great subs but is only a chain in limited areas such as WI and IL.

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: etoiles

                                            I think smaller local chains tend to be better than larger ones. In the Boston area we have Bertucci's and Paparrazi for decent Italian and Legal Seafoods for fresh, decent seafood.

                                            1. re: etoiles

                                              "I, like many others, really love Baja Fresh. How many other, if any, chains can boast that they have no can openers or freezers? "

                                              But the food at Baja Fresh tastes terrible. I don't know where you live... but in places with a Mexican population... chances are that Baja Fresh (outside of the obvious Taco Bell, Del Taco etc.,) is going to be one of the worst tacos in town.

                                              1. re: etoiles

                                                "How many other, if any, chains can boast that they have no can openers or freezers? "


                                              2. Fast food wise my favorite is Chick Fil A. I also like Wendy's, Chipotle, Quiznos, and I have no problem with Panera.

                                                1. >>>
                                                  WHY (I realize that this is a whole other thread) can't we in the US have fast food that doesn't totally suck?

                                                  I guess it's because chains have to buy in such quantity, and that usually means frozen, canned, or bagged. It also has to taste the same everywhere. I would also guess they don't pay enough for good chef's to want to work for them, either. Here are some exceptions:

                                                  For steaks, I choose Texas Roadhouse. Can't go there with the wife, tho, because she is allergic to peanuts (and they are *everywhere* there). Outback is a close 2nd.

                                                  Pizza - Pizza Hut's Thin and Crispy Supreme. Quisno's for hot subs and Jreck's (an upstate NY chain) for cold subs. Taco Bell, Wendy's, and KFC in a pinch.

                                                  Krispy Kreme??!!!?? Over-hyped and over-rated IMO. The one they opened in Syracuse lasted less than 2 yrs. (Tho in all fairness, it was in a crap location.) DD isn't any better. Tim Horton's is just opening here but I haven't gotten to one yet. Green Mountain Coffee Roasters coffee is worth stopping for.

                                                  Chili's and Quaker Steak & Lube are decent, too, and fairly reasonably priced.

                                                  Most other chains, especially the main burger joints, generally suck, IMO.

                                                  9 Replies
                                                  1. re: al b. darned

                                                    Tim Horton's is actually pretty good, although it's more expensive than most FF spots. But my daughter played soccer, and whenever there were lunches at tournaments, the question was always "Where is the nearest Tim's?" (they are practically on every corner in Ontario). No one ever suggested BK, McD's, Wendy's, Pizza Hut, etc. There's always a good soup/sandwich combo, and their chili isn't bad either. As parents, we felt we were offering our girls some healthy options, instead of fat-laden fries and greasy burgers.

                                                    The only thing I don't get is the obsession with their coffee. It's fine, as coffee goes, but I can't taste the difference between it and half the doughnut shops (which are on all the other corners..) like Country Style or Coffee Time. Oh, and Krispy Kreme lasted about 2 years here (north of Toronto). Their only good doughnuts were the hot ones, and as much as I enjoyed them, you can only eat so many without doing serious damage to your waistline. When they opened, there were 45 minute line-ups, but after a year or so, traffic was next to nothing. Their focus on just selling doughnuts was a mistake, IMHO. Every doughnut shop in Toronto offers sandwiches, bagels, soups, etc. There's so much more choice at those places.

                                                    1. re: KevinB

                                                      KK closed swiftly in Montréal as well. I found it funny, as their outlet here was located in a bigbox mall - right next to the very outdoorsy and fitness-oriented Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC).

                                                      Living in central-northern Montréal, I have no reason on earth to go to a fastfood when in town - there are lots of little "ethnic" holes in walls that are cheaper and better - but I agree that Tim's is a comfort when travelling on highways. I pretty much always order their chile.

                                                      1. re: KevinB

                                                        I think KK had a few problems.

                                                        Donuts only was one. Bad donuts (except for the original "Hot now" cream) was another.

                                                        Atrocious coffee.

                                                        The "No carb" fad.


                                                        1. re: Davwud

                                                          The KK near me closed only about a year after they opened. And they had the hot donuts sign too. I remember one austere wintry morning I somehow lost control of my steering wheel when I saw that hot donut sign. I bought four really hot glazed only intending to eat two and save the rest for my family. Well you know the rest of the story. But they opened right at the peak of the no carb fad. Sigh. Come back KK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

                                                      2. re: al b. darned

                                                        WHY (I realize that this is a whole other thread) can't we in the US have fast food that doesn't totally suck?

                                                        I think the fundamental problem is cultural. The vast majority of mainstream (i.e., non-Chowhound) Americans value Convenience, Consistency, Familiarity, Options & Comfort over Qualtiy.

                                                        1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                          I think it's corporate philosophy in general. Local chain enlarges, hires MBAs that see people and ingredients as costs, then tries to cut said costs wherever possible (earning themselves large bonuses for business acumen). This is why you get automated phone menus and customer service in India, HFCS in the hamburger bun and some study that shows people want their food salty and fatty so buy that cheap meat and MSG the hell out of it.

                                                          Even Domino's didn't suck in the beginning. Even McD's in the Sixties was tasty.

                                                          1. re: coney with everything

                                                            I am so far left I give Obama a stiff neck (and also happen to be an MBA).... but blaming the corporate philosophy is ridiculous.... our consumption $ represent OUR choices... most Americans time & time again choose the crap chains over joints that serve fresh, tasty, quality food. The choice is OURS... not the government, not the corporations.... time to man up.

                                                            1. re: Eat_Nopal

                                                              Sorry, Nopal, don't want to insult all MBAs. I just see the concept of "if you can't count it, you can't manage it" invading everything. And it's hard to quantify attitude, and service, so it seems these things are the first to go when restaurants get serious about being a "business" because of the costs of providing these uncountable things.

                                                              1. re: coney with everything

                                                                No worries... I think the underlying problem is the passivity with which Americans allow these changes to happen... and I think the underlying issue is that the country has generally lost is compass of what is real and what is important. Time is money... I recognize the Golden Arches or X Logo, a block away... I can get in & out quickly and go on my way without "wasting time" i.e., experiencing life.

                                                                You can't blame the MBAs for providing what the market apparently demands.

                                                                Acknowledging the problem is the first step to soliving it.

                                                      3. We had a krispy kreme here in the burbs of Philly that closed down fast. They used to have a neon sign that lit when the donuts were still warm and I went early one day and managed to snag some. So good! But the location sucked And they opened right at the beginning of the low-carb craze. They were doomed! But of course dunkin donuts survived and multipied. At least here we have a small chain Yum Yum donuts and they are mighty fine. Love their monster donuts and coffee rolls!

                                                        1. Like many here, I've never been fond of Panera; I much prefer Corner Bakery or Cosi, which are similar concepts. There's a Chipotle close to my office, which I like a lot, and try not to think too hard about the calories. Potbelly is another good lunch place, and a little cheaper than some.

                                                          As far as sit down dining chains, the only one we go to with any regularity is Ted's Montana Grill; the quality of the food and the service is good, and the atmosphere is a little nicer than most chains

                                                          1. When I'm in Phoenix or California, I always like to go to El Polo Loco.

                                                            4 Replies
                                                            1. re: nearlywild

                                                              I so wish we had EPL here on the East Coast. Everytime I'm in SoCal, I stop by EPL for a fix.

                                                              1. re: dpan

                                                                What's good there? We just got an El Pollo Loco in my town a couple months ago.

                                                                1. re: operagirl

                                                                  Skip the burritos but go for the chicken on the bone.

                                                                  1. re: sebetti

                                                                    Yup, order the chicken on the bone, get some tortillas and rice, gather up the salsa and cilantro, onions, peppers, etc., and go at it.

                                                            2. Potbelly's Sandwiches. God I love those.

                                                              Jimmy John's is good too, although once you look a the calorie count for one of their sandwiches, you stop going so often.

                                                              There are plenty of fast food places I love--Culvers, White Castle, even an occasional Double Cheeseburger from McDonalds, but I probably only eat ff 4-5 times a year. What I don't get are places like Panera. Once you order a drink, your bill is coming in close to 8-9 dollars; for that kind of money, I would rather get real food.

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: lulubelle

                                                                lulubelle: if you ask for no mayo (i sub dijon) the calories are much lower. e.g. the big john (roast beef) goes from 563 to 335 calories

                                                                1. re: allison325

                                                                  But mayo is what makes them taste SOOOO good!

                                                              2. Just had a surprisingly decent, cheap meal at a newly-opened Logan's Roadhouse. Don't get me wrong, this is a downscale chain with plain food, but the quality and execution were fine. FWIW, I stick with chopped steak at these type places. It was juicy on the inside with a nice char on the outside. Sides of slaw, mac and cheese and baked sweet potato were simple but tasty. Our server was eager and efficient.

                                                                1. I know there's much dislike by some for the chain, but I actually enjoy PeiWei. They serve a very good niche for me: VERY quick, tasty and I feel better eating there than most fast-food joints. Yes, it usually is very salty. I enjoy their hot and sour soup more than I probably should. Their chicken lettuce wraps? LOVE THEM.

                                                                  The 3 other FF places that are good to me: Arby's, Origional Tommy's and In-N-Out. Arby's makes a mean Jamoca shake, and In-N-Out always satisfies. Nothing beats Tommy's when the craving for a messy chiliburger hits hard.

                                                                  1. Elephant Bar -- I'm pretty satisfied with having one in the entire state of Ohio :)

                                                                    1. Chick-Fil-A, Dunkin Donuts, Not Your Average Joes, PF Changs, Cheesecake Factory.

                                                                      1. I like Carrabba's Italian Grill and Five Guys, but neither are as good as what comes out of my own kitchen.

                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. re: grampart

                                                                          how do you make a good burger?

                                                                        2. I know i've allready mentioned a few places in an earlier post in this thread, but I wanted to add a place i've just started going to, and like quite a bit: Raising Canes. They do one thing only, and they do it really really good. Chicken fingers. I am addicted to their dipping sauce, and the other enjoyable aspect is their crinkle-cut french fries. (okay, so they do 2 things well!)
                                                                          They do a decent-to-delicious sweet tea that can be hit or miss perfection. So, the 3 things they do great are chicken fingers, crinkle-cut fries and sweet tea.

                                                                          As i'm typing this out, I hear Monty Python's Spanish Inquisition sketch in my head. Go figure. *LOL*

                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                          1. re: Honeychan

                                                                            NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition!!! I really like Raising Cane's, but I'm just not a fan of frozen fries. How about their Texas Toast?

                                                                          2. Harvey's! A chain in Canada, they use a REAL grill...with those lines and stuff. And their Anguses are fantastic.

                                                                            We don't have in n out though so don't know if that's better...

                                                                            And yes on the KK, it's so soft and sweet and ugh!!!!!!

                                                                            1. A Texas Roadhouse recently opened in our area. I must say that I am impressed with their ability to deliver a decent meal, quickly and at a very reasonable price. How many restaurants serve you a meal with frsh baked bread, a salad, entree, and two sides for under $10 (and before 6:00 it is $7.99). It isn't world class cuisine but you would be hard pressed to beat the value. Additionally the service seems friendly, you are acknowledged by all staff members and they have free peanuts. Maybe they are trying to make a good first impression in a new market but judging by the line out the door, they are doing something right.

                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                              1. re: TonyO

                                                                                I think Macaroni Grill is excellent, and I come from one seriously Italian cooking family!

                                                                              2. Went to Cheeseburger Cheeseburger over the holidays and it was great.

                                                                                Real onion rings. Real fries. Real burgers cooked pink in the middle.

                                                                                Large portions without over paying. Paid less than at Red Robin and got more and better food.


                                                                                4 Replies
                                                                                1. re: Davwud

                                                                                  Agree 100%! Every visit to Sanibel always includes a stop at Cheeseburgerx2. We've never been disappointed with the food. It can get a tad noisy when it's really busy, but I guess that's part of the "charm".

                                                                                  1. re: Davwud

                                                                                    The chicken 'patty melt' on rye bread with swiss cheese and onions is one of my very favorite sandwiches. And their onion rings are totally yummy!!

                                                                                    1. re: Davwud

                                                                                      We had two cheeburger locations by me, both recently went out of business. Too bad, I really liked them.

                                                                                      1. re: MattInNJ

                                                                                        The one near us came and went before we could try it.

                                                                                    2. Rubio's for the classic fish tacos. Oh how I miss SD. And even though this is sacrilege to my roots in CA, I think 5 Guys beats In-n-Out for burgers- I like the bun and the loose packed patty at 5 Guys better.

                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                      1. re: mjhals

                                                                                        We visited SD about 12 years ago -- hit Rubios for fish tacos several times. Even the one at the airport was good!

                                                                                      2. Biaggi's- I just ate there a few days ago and it was surprisingly good. The only thing I wasn't exactly impressed with was the caprese, but that's just because of my own personal preferences. I prefer it to be sprinkled with a basalmic reduction, and they just use straight up basalmic. (Yes, I know real caprese doesn't call for any basalmic) Again, not their fault.

                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: nimeye

                                                                                          In our area I love Five Guys, Popeye's is the BEST for chicken & red beans & rice - ours had good green beans too but have discontinued them. Chili's is ok and Duchess is a guilty pleasure, though I think their burgers are average - their onion rings are SO GOOD.

                                                                                          I dream of getting somewhere nearby someday: In n' Out (spectacular), Pollo Tropical - the fried yuca - just like mom used to make), Chipotle, Beard Papa Cream Puffs - food of the gods.

                                                                                          1. re: debvil

                                                                                            Sounds like you're a Fairfield County Girl..................
                                                                                            Duchess, 'good food fast'---NOT
                                                                                            Onion Rings are great, Hummels Hot Dogs are ok.
                                                                                            Their burgers suck-all dried out.
                                                                                            Worst thing is many items are not on the menu board. My wife likes the grilled chicken sandwich. Every time it's a different price. Not posted on the board and each cashier charges whatever they want.

                                                                                            Also, no consistency, individually owned franchises can order from different food purveyors.

                                                                                        2. Bertucci's pizza
                                                                                          Panera's asiago bread and multigrain bread (like the tuna salad sandwich on the latter but don't understand why they put mustard on it unless you ask them to hold it; like the sprouts and red onion though)
                                                                                          Boston Market's pot pie and creamed spinach

                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                          1. re: greygarious

                                                                                            I would like to add Houston's! I am also a big-fan of Popeye's.

                                                                                          2. Pollo Tropical is by far the best "fast food' chain out there! The food is always served hot and fresh, and the price is unbeatable. It's a great healthy alternative for grabing a quick lunch or dinner. I would defintely recommend.

                                                                                            1. Popeye's spicy chicken and their red beans and rice. Biscuits are very hit or miss depending on location and experience of the biscuit maker. Tropical smoothie makes a really nice salad -- lots of good, fresh, varied greens, and their low-cal ranch dressing is pretty tasty. There aren't many sit-down chain restaurants on my usual travels, so I guess I'm fortunate that way.

                                                                                              1. I like subway and although they are not created equal I love the Outback in Lowell, Ma. We always have fantastic luck there, but other locations no. I love Bonefish Grill but none around here and Roys. Funny they are all owned by the same Co. I'm now in love with Bojangles but again, none up here.

                                                                                                1. My votes by category:

                                                                                                  Breakfast: Original Pancake House

                                                                                                  Fast Food: In-N-Out Burger, Chick-Fil-A

                                                                                                  Casual Dining: Ruby's (primarily SoCal...and this is NOT Ruby Tuesday's) and Portillo's (primarily Chicago area), also an honorable mention for the Chicken Crispers at Chili's

                                                                                                  Mid Casual/Upscale Dining: Houston's, Wood Ranch (primarily SoCal)

                                                                                                  Overall, if I had to pick only one chain to eat at, it would be Portillo's...good variety of food that can appeal to many tastes, not too pricey, well run restaurants.

                                                                                                  Upscale Dining: Morton's, Ruth's Chris, Flemming's...I don't think any are particularly good value, though

                                                                                                  1. Olive Garden, Macaroni's Grill, McDonald's, Red Robin, Panda Express

                                                                                                    However they're all wildly unhealthy and should be avoided at all costs!

                                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                                    1. re: ArrowSmith

                                                                                                      Can not agree more about being unhealthy but they are all very satisfying going down. The one chain that has impressed me is the new lineup of burgers at Hardees. A little more money than other similar chains but a much better taste than most of their competitors. Plus the burgers are charbroiled rather than fried.

                                                                                                    2. The chains I really like are the Cheesecake Factory and Ruth's Chris.

                                                                                                      I also like Au Bon Pain for soups and sandwiches. I'd include Chipotle and Subway too, but have found that the food quality (and quantity at Subway--some sandwich makers seem to count the number of cucumbers and tomato slices that they put on sandwiches) varies by location.

                                                                                                      Re: Panera I don't really like the food there, but will stop by for a drink and snack, especially b/c the one near me has free WiFi.

                                                                                                      1. carrabba's for mussels
                                                                                                        micky d's sausage egg mcmuffin for early morning dog show day b'fast
                                                                                                        taco bell bean tacos (crunchy) in emergency situations

                                                                                                        1. The Decent (meaning I will eat there again):

                                                                                                          Five Guys – Burgers are better than most.
                                                                                                          Carl Jr’s – Burgers are good
                                                                                                          Bahama Breeze – Nice atmosphere ok food.
                                                                                                          Vocelli Pizza – one of the better pizza chains.
                                                                                                          Chipotle – better than average fast food
                                                                                                          El Toritio – authentic higher end Mexican food
                                                                                                          Ruby Tuesdays – very edible, especially since they have redone their menu
                                                                                                          Spencer’s & Flemings – Better steaks than Ruth Chris, Mortons, etc.
                                                                                                          Rubios – much better Mexican than Baja fresh.
                                                                                                          Quizno’s – Still serve up the best sub sandwiches out there, all they need to do is to copy Pot Belly’s bread and they would be fantastic.
                                                                                                          IHOP – For breakfast items only, they actually do a pretty good job and at a reasonable price.

                                                                                                          Special Mention:

                                                                                                          Der Wienerschnitzel – Sometimes only a chili dog from them will cure life’s problems.

                                                                                                          The Bad (meaning, sorry can’t get me to go back):

                                                                                                          In-N-Out Burger – All hype and marketing, cheap greasy and nasty burgers
                                                                                                          Outback – The In-N-Out of steak chains.
                                                                                                          Macaroni Grill – Makes Olive Garden look delicious and authentic
                                                                                                          Buca Di Beppo – So if you can’t cook good Italian food just give them a whole lot of crappy food to make up for it. This typifies the average American, they thought the food was blah but they had leftovers for three days so it turned out to be a good deal.
                                                                                                          Papa John’s Pizza – Terrible greasy stuff and their dough – yuck and whats up with that pasty cheese – is it even cheese?
                                                                                                          Cheesecake Factory – poor service, bad food, expensive, why bother.
                                                                                                          The Melting pot – are you freaking kidding me, how anyone would go back is beyond me.
                                                                                                          PF Changs – Americanized, syrupy Asian knock-off food that they charge big bucks for. The sad part is that many Americans are now thinking the stuff they serve at PF Changs is real Asian food.
                                                                                                          Chevy’s – Expensive wanna be ?mexican? food. Not very good but you’ll pay a lot for it.
                                                                                                          Red Lobster – Someone’s gotta say it, an insult to seafood everywhere.
                                                                                                          TGIF – It pains me to do this, they used to be a really good chain and have fallen into the bad chain, sad, very sad.

                                                                                                          Special Mention:

                                                                                                          Panera Bread – How do they get the whole crew to act so surely and rude – it just amazes me, their food is okay but seriously three different locations and three different nasty crews and it was all of them. How do you train people to scowl all the time? Is that their trademark and I’m missing something?

                                                                                                          1. In and out burger is a must,
                                                                                                            5 guys is great excellent topping selection,
                                                                                                            Baja fresh for the salsa bar,
                                                                                                            white castle for the original slider,
                                                                                                            pollo tropical for the best chix,
                                                                                                            chick fil et for the breakfast chicken biscuit

                                                                                                            1. I don't have a whole lot of choice in my town. It's mainly all chains. But I love Chick-Fil-A. When I go back to the Dallas area (which is fairly often), I always try to go to P.F. Chang's and Spaghetti Warehouse. Can't say I have ever tried Panera, although I have seen them all over the Dallas area--Chipotle, too. I like La Madeleine fairly well, too. Oh and Quiznos is good too. I guess this is really all just a matter of opinion. Retired Chef thinks Macaroni Grill and PF Chang's are no good, while I enjoy eating at both of them.

                                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                                              1. re: amylovescupcakes

                                                                                                                Oh and Culver's. I love their burgers and fresh frozen custard.

                                                                                                              2. Yes, BP what you say is true, but does not belong on this thread.

                                                                                                                Peter Luger Steak houses.

                                                                                                                9 Replies
                                                                                                                1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                                                  Haha, didn't see the part about "(I realize that this is a whole other thread)" I tend to ignore parenthesis.

                                                                                                                  Took me awhile but I thought of some chains that are not so bad.
                                                                                                                  Whole Foods, Wegmans, Costcos, Trader Joe's.

                                                                                                                  People assume by chain you mean fast food place or restaurant and forget that supermarkets also contain Cafe areas. I found the to go or cafe food at the four chains I mentioned above are much superior to the doughnut and fast food places my friends tend to suggest.

                                                                                                                  Of all the chains I think I like Wegmans the best. You can get good tasting, healthy food, quickly, and for a reasonable price. The 6$ meal with two sides at Wegmans' is a bargain. I wonder why my friends never suggest Wegmans. You could easily spend more than $6 at a fast food place.

                                                                                                                  I'm not really a fan of Costco's food court. Pizza and hot dogs are too common. I mean why eat a hot dog out when you can easily make a hot dog at home? I am a sucker for strawberries I love any fruit, mmmmm strawberry sundae. Costco #2.

                                                                                                                  Trader Joe's while no dine in has lots of healthy snacks like Shepherd's pie. I find it can be way faster to nuke up a Shepherd's pie than to go to Taco Bell. One time at Taco Bell I had to wait over 30 mins before I was waited on because of the long line. Lesson learned fast food is slower than most restaurants and home cooking, at least in my area where fast food is insanely popular. TJs #3 chain.

                                                                                                                  Whole foods is terribly expensive and nobody buys from the hot foods in my town. You end up paying a lot for food that is not fresh, since nobody buys the prepared food in my neck of the woods. On the other hand if you are willing to drive an hour to a good Whole foods' hot bar, Whole foods beats any fast food chain hands down. I'm not really a fan of Whole foods in-store items. Whole foods #4.

                                                                                                                  I've taken all the money I used to spend on fast food and spend it at the above chains.

                                                                                                                  1. re: Bottomless_Pit

                                                                                                                    Because $2 for a hot dog and a drink can save you a whole lot of time.


                                                                                                                    1. re: Davwud

                                                                                                                      I know that's why I don't like Costco as much. :) A little too convenient in my opinion. For example I was going home to eat hot dogs, but then I saw a hot dog at Costco. When I got home I'm like, why did I buy yet another hot dog? :)

                                                                                                                      1. re: Bottomless_Pit

                                                                                                                        Well, for those of us who don't eat/have hot dogs at home (I eat fairly healthy), the Costco hot dogs are a yummy godsend! =)

                                                                                                                        1. re: OCAnn

                                                                                                                          He was wondering why people bother to go to chains.

                                                                                                                  2. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                                                    What did BP say passadumkeg? Can't seem to find his/her comment.

                                                                                                                    1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                                                      Passadumkeg- R U saying Peter Luger's is a "chain?" I was unclear. There are only 2, so I do not think that qualifies as a chain. It is my most favorite restaurant ever.

                                                                                                                      1. re: chicken kabob

                                                                                                                        How many does it take to make a chain? I like Luger's too. Makes me actually look forward to Newark Airport layovers. Why is Bangor so difficult to get to?

                                                                                                                        1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                                                                          Darn near impossible, isn't it? The last two times my SO had to go back to Bangor and Lewiston he flew direct from Portland, OR to Boston and took a bus up to Portland then Bangor or Lewiston. Much easier than rushingn through airports trying to make a connection!

                                                                                                                    2. Hadn't really thought much about it when reading the other day, but every time we head over to Trader Joe's in Danbury, our favorite place to have lunch is Chuck's Steak House near there, great salad bar, good burgers, and some nice reasonable entrees, both meat and quite a bit of seafood too. It's definitely a chain name, but they may be individually owned and operated.


                                                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                                                      1. re: junescook

                                                                                                                        I used to love Chuck's when we lived near Danbury. Do they still have chocolate truffles? They used to be fantastic. And their seafood - usually mahi mahi for me - was always cooked perfectly.

                                                                                                                        1. re: shanagain

                                                                                                                          They do have the chocolates, in a glass case by the door. And we always seem to get some kind of seafood for lunch since I'm not confident cooking it myself.

                                                                                                                      2. Houston's, Fleming's and Le Pain Quotidien. All solid and very unchainy in feel.

                                                                                                                        4 Replies
                                                                                                                        1. re: bulavinaka

                                                                                                                          Oh, I LOVE Houston's, Flemings, and may I add J. ALEXANDER'S and the STONEWOOD GRILL to your list?!?

                                                                                                                          (been to the Ft. Lauderdale location of J. Alexanders; great burgers, salads, very much like Houston's)

                                                                                                                          Been to the Stonewood Grill in Daytona, as well as Tampa..
                                                                                                                          EXCELLENT burgers !!! ....(also a "Houston's feeling)

                                                                                                                          1. re: ellen4441

                                                                                                                            I have come to like some of the offerings from Chilis. I like their guiltless grill, and when I am not dieting, their chicken cob salad is not bad. I am living in Cairo, and there are chains galore, but Chilis is the only one I can stomach on a semi-regular basis...

                                                                                                                            1. re: roxlet

                                                                                                                              I'm certainly not the connoisseur that some of you are, but I do have some idea of the difference between crap food and good food.

                                                                                                                              Chili's has some very decent food (their boneless buffalo wings are my fav). Arby's has above-average food for fast food. KFC can be excellent when it's fresh AND cooked in fresh oil, but those are two big ifs!

                                                                                                                              Maybe this is blasphemy, but I think Taco Bell has some decent stuff... Also Taco John's, Taco del Mar, Qdoba...

                                                                                                                              The local Outback used to be fantastic, but they have really gone downhill in the last few years. I've heard other locations are still good. I still like Red Lobster, and Olive Garden also has some great food.

                                                                                                                              I used to like Hardee's a lot when I was younger, but their menu has changed quite a bit since then. Still, I think they are way better than McDonald's. But heck, even McD's has one or two good things on their entire menu - haha.

                                                                                                                              With all that said, I've recently gotten myself to eat much healthier and to limit my meat intake... And that involves eating at home most of the time! :)

                                                                                                                              1. re: electric_glare

                                                                                                                                Fast: Wahoo's Fish Tacos, Chick-Fil-A, Popeye's, 5 Guys, Portillo's
                                                                                                                                Value-Mid: Houston's, Ruby's, Norm's
                                                                                                                                High: Roy's, Ruth's Chris

                                                                                                                        2. Five guys, mcd's has its place, and texas roadhouse (but depends on the location)

                                                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                                                          1. re: fara

                                                                                                                            agreed, FARA !!
                                                                                                                            Some Five Guys have drier burgers than others...

                                                                                                                            I usually like Texas Roadhouse a lot (for a chain, lol)
                                                                                                                            but sisters ribs were much better in old bridge, nj, compared to Bear , DE version

                                                                                                                          2. Wild Willy's Burgers, a New England chain that's better than Five Guys.

                                                                                                                            3 Replies
                                                                                                                            1. re: KazamaSmokers

                                                                                                                              Oooh. Used to think that about Willy's, when they were only in Watertown. Needham location is just "OK".

                                                                                                                              Meanwhile, I had the new crabcake melt at Cosi yesterday, and it was pretty darn good.

                                                                                                                              1. re: KazamaSmokers

                                                                                                                                I've gotta get my butt to this Wild Willy's place, next time I take a New England trip!
                                                                                                                                sounds like some locations are better than others, (typical scenario!)

                                                                                                                                1. re: ellen4441

                                                                                                                                  When it's good, it's good for the price, but really, it's good as a convenient neighborhood place that is very kid friendly. I would not go out of my way to go there.

                                                                                                                              2. Chains I enjoy:

                                                                                                                                Taco Bell
                                                                                                                                Five Guys
                                                                                                                                Jersey Mikes

                                                                                                                                Chains I avoid at all costs:
                                                                                                                                Olive Garden

                                                                                                                                2 Replies
                                                                                                                                1. re: Janet from Richmond

                                                                                                                                  Last weekend, Hubby & I were driving 95-y-o FIL through rural VA on Father's day. We stayed at a holiday inn off the highway and took him to dinner at Olive Garden, as it was the only place that sounded decent that was closeby. Why does Olive Garden have such a bad rep? We had a great meal there! The service was spot-on and friendly. The salad dressing was fantastic (I did not care for the bread sticks). I had a lovely shrimp and pasta dish made with fresh basil and mozzarella and tomatoes. Thought it was great and at just under $16 a pretty good deal. I see everyone saying their food is unhealthy, but come on, you don't eat the WHOLE PLATE- there had to be 2 lbs of pasta on that plate- who can do that? Seriously, why do people hate Olive Garden? Do I need to eat there a few more times to hate it? BTW, FIL and Hubby both had a filet-gorgonzola-pasta dish and they were very satisfied.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: maddogg280

                                                                                                                                    While their salads and other simpler dishes may range from average to good, I really find their pasta to be meh, with no particular taste or texture. They're not bad, but just not very good (esp when you have other options).

                                                                                                                                    When you're in an area where restaurants are limited, many of the chains that folks disdain work in a pinch...esp when you're hungry.

                                                                                                                                2. Zaxby's.

                                                                                                                                  Tons better than Chick-Fil-A. Plus they aren't hypocrites and are open 7 days a week. CFA is closed on Sundays, but feel it's ok to have contractors maintain their property on the Lord's day...as long as they aren't open and can claim to be holier-than-thou. CFA also has a legal department that will threaten to sue mom&pop restaurants around the country if they use the term "chick fillet" on their menus. Their founder may be a religious man, but the company he created sure hasn't turned out to be the model he started.

                                                                                                                                  Anyway, Zaxby's is hot & fresh every time.

                                                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                                                  1. re: JayL

                                                                                                                                    I agree it was better but McD's is better than Burger King IMHO. It's simply semantics.


                                                                                                                                  2. If you have to eat chain Italian, Maggiano's is very good. It's a definite upscale chain. I will eat pizza and limited pastas from Bravo (though WTF is up with the jalapeno slices in their pesto?????) and even, if pressed, Macaroni Grill.

                                                                                                                                    I like Chipotle, but wish it weren't so caloric. at least the food has flavor.

                                                                                                                                    I don't mind California Pizza Kitchen--if I'm in a mall and there's a CPK, that's usually my choice.

                                                                                                                                    1. We had lunch again yesterday at Chevy's on the way home from a long road trip. We really enjoy the freshness of their food.